Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: a healthy mind through nature
This week (10-16 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week, which is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Every year, this event seeks to raise awareness of and encourage support for people living with mental health issues, with the focus of this years’ campaign being nature and how it can help to improve our mental health.
Increasing engagement and connection with the natural environment is one of the most accessible and cost-effective ways of improving human wellbeing. Many research studies support the idea that being outdoors and amongst nature is good for our health. It has been shown that being outdoors is associated with greater vitality. It has also been suggested that moving to more tranquil nature environments may prevent poor mental health. Even nature exposure through virtual reality (VR) can offer emotional wellbeing benefits for people who are unable to access the outdoors. Outdoor and VR nature exposure can increase physiological arousal and improve positive mood levels.
You don’t have to be a really ‘outdoorsy’ person to reap the benefits of nature to improve your mental health. So, you don’t have to ride a bike for miles on end through a forest or go cold water swimming in the sea to feel better, if these aren’t your thing. A simple stroll around the block, standing in the garden and noticing the sound of birds singing, laying on grass in the sunshine, or watching trees blowing in the wind from your window, are all exposures to nature and the outdoors.
Getting outside isn’t easy for everyone, especially people who struggle with anxiety. Being indoors has become a comfort zone for a lot of people living with anxiety as a result of the lockdown restrictions, which makes the idea of facing the world again difficult. It may therefore be best to try to have company if you would like to venture outdoors. Arranging a walk with a family member or friend can make an attempt to get out and enjoy nature less anxiety provoking, so that it becomes something beneficial to your mental wellbeing, rather than a hinderance.
There is a lot of talk about society’s ‘mental health crisis’, particularly in response to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with people feeling isolated, lonely, anxious, stressed and very low due to the dramatic changes and restrictions placed upon their lives. With restrictions gradually being lifted, there are now more opportunities to connect with nature through the outdoors. The frequency of being in green spaces and even the existence of green window views from within the home are associated with higher levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness, as well as lower levels of loneliness, depression and anxiety.
So, when someone encourages you to go and get some fresh air or blow the cobwebs away, there is actually merit in what they are saying. A dose of nature really can help improve your mental health.